The Ultimate Guide To Essential Oils: Uses, Benefits & More
Your one-stop-shop for everything you need to know about essential oils and your wellness
This article has been written to help inform and support you in learning more about essential oils, highly concentrated plant compounds, and the impact they have on our health, wellness and overall well-being. You can expect to learn more about how they are made, how they work and how we suggest you use essential oils to get the most out of your products.
So, let’s get started!
AN INTRODUCTION TO ESSENTIAL OILS
Welcome to the wide world of essential oils and aromatherapy. These highly concentrated, plant-derived compounds play an important role in the wellness of many people today, whether they are prioritizing products that are free of synthetic chemicals and artificial fragrances or because they are interested in using nature-derived products in place of pharmaceutical or cosmetic alternatives for their many purported health benefits.
What are essential oils?
Essential oils are the essence or ‘life force’ of a plant. Inside many plants are potent, highly concentrated chemical compounds; the common name for these naturally occurring compounds is essential oil. They are what creates the unique scent each plant offers, also referred to as their flavor or essence.
Prevalently used in aromatherapy, they are a form of alternative medicine that relies heavily on nature and plant-derived ingredients to help support the physical, mental and emotional needs of many people on their path to wellness and well-being. They also act to help protect plants from dangerous environmental conditions and work to provide protection from hazardous predators, among other important benefits and functions.
Essential oils are in part fragrant, aromatic extracts that are distilled or expressed from flowers, leaves, resins, roots, and other plant materials. They harness the healing power of nature, offer many health benefits and have an ability to transform mind, body, and spirit that transcends their chemical nature.
The term “essential oil” is actually a contraction of “quintessential oil”. This name is connected to the idea that all matter is composed of four main elements — fire, water, earth, and air — and also a fifth, lesser-known element called quintessence that is considered to be spirit or life force.
Pure essential oils are highly concentrated plant extracts that are referred to as hydrophobic. This means that they are seemingly repelled by water, which is why you’ve likely heard the saying, ‘oil and water don’t mix’. Commonly referred to as volatile compounds, which means that they have the tendency to evaporate quickly under normal circumstances.
How are essential oils made?
Essential oils are made from plant sources like leaves, flowers, peels, roots and barks through an extraction process known as distillation. Though there are a number of ways to distill essential oils, only a few commonly employed methods are widely used and accepted as efficacious in the aromatherapy industry.
The most common distillation method is called steam distillation. The simplest way to explain steam distillation is that it is a separation process. Combined in a large container called a still is water and plant matter, like flowers, leaves or roots, which is then heated. At this time, it’s the combination of the heated steam and gentle pressure in the still that the essence or essential oil begins to release from the plant matter.
The steam produced from the boiling water then carries the vapor, which now contains the essence of the plant, to what is known as a condenser. It’s at this step in the process that both the steam and the plant extract begin to cool, which allows the oil and water to separate. The oil ‘floats’ at the top of the water in a layer that is then separated from the water (often referred to as the hydrosol or ‘flower water’).
Since different plants have different requirements for distillation such as temperature, time and pressure, steam distillation is a highly effective method for essential oil extraction as all of these factors can be managed in the distillation process.
Other distillation methods include solvent extraction, resin tapping and another more commonly used method, particularly for obtaining citrus essential oils called expression. Expression is sometimes referred to as cold pressing, and unlike steam distillation, the process does not require the use of heat. Expression uses mechanical pressure, like that from a ram, plunger or piston, to ‘force’ the essential oil from the plant matter. The reason that expression is commonly used to distill citrus essential oils is because the tiny, microscopic sacs containing the oils are primarily located in the tough outer peel of the fruit.
Regardless of the distillation method used, it’s during this important and delicate process that the quality of pure essential oils can be either preserved or diminished, which is why it’s so important to source essential oils from reputable suppliers who work closely with the artisans equipped with reliable expertise that has been proven over time.
How do essential oils work?
Our friend Leigh Winters, a neuroscientist and natural beauty expert, shares the following in regards to how essential oils work: "Essential oils can enhance our wellbeing by creating a cascade of bodily reactions that affect our physiological and emotional states. When you smell essential oils, your brain responds by releasing endorphins (think: feel-good calm!), serotonin (think: boosted mood!) and even noradrenaline (think: stimulating and burst of energy!). What starts in the nose quickly travels to the brain and the rest of the body.
When smelling an essential oil, the chemical molecules travel through your nasal passages and land at the olfactory epithelium, which is specialized tissue in the nasal cavity. In the brain, this is likened to the aromatic molecules attaching to olfactory receptors located there.
Once the scent molecules bind to the receptors, there are a series of chemical reactions that occur. The actual mechanisms that activate these receptors are still under investigation by neuroscientists, but we know their activation is necessary for the amazing cascade of changes about to happen!
When the receptors are activated, they start sending electrical signals alerting the rest of the brain that sensory information is heading their way. The electrical signals fire quickly to communicate with other subcortical (aka ‘evolutionarily old’) regions of the brain, such as the amygdala and hypothalamus.
These impulses in the amygdala and other brain regions trigger neurotransmitters that communicate with the rest of the nervous system and body. The pathway of aroma traveling through the body can prompt a multitude of physiological changes, like allowing us to relax by sedating our central nervous system or restoring bodily balance by slowing our heart rate. While the sense of smell is often underutilized in modern living, the effects of smelling and using essential oils are anything but subtle”.
How to use essential oils
There are two primary ways that we suggest and recommend using essential oils to maximize their health benefits. The first is through inhalation, which means breathing them in through the nose and the mouth, and the second is through topical application, which means essential oils being applied directly to the skin.
Inhalation: when we breathe essential oils through the nose and mouth, this is a quick-acting way to begin to experience their health benefits. Our favorite way to experience oils through inhalation is via a diffuser. A diffuser is a device that breaks down water molecules and 100% pure essential oils into a fine, cool mist that not only creates a pleasant aroma in the air but also creates benefits for our mind, body and spirit like elevating our mood, helping us relieve stress, encouraging a sunny disposition and positive outlook and many more.
Topical application: when essential oils are applied directly to the skin, it takes a few minutes for them to penetrate through the layers of our skin so they can enter the bloodstream and travel to various parts of the body. When applied topically, they are thought to have a long-lasting and sustained effect that creates a positive impact on our overall well-being, particularly in regards to what purpose you’ve selected them for.
5 ESSENTIAL OIL BENEFITS YOU SHOULD KNOW MORE ABOUT
Essential oils have many beneficial properties that can have a profound effect on not only our physical health but the health of our emotions and spiritual state as well. Below we lean into five of the key benefits of essential oils and the impact they can have on your overall state of health and well-being.
#1. Essential oils can help you relieve stress and other unpleasant feelings
Stress is a common condition that affects us all at one point or another. Unmanaged stress can wreak havoc on all areas of our lives, from our energy levels in the daytime to our sleeping patterns at nighttime. When applied directly to the skin, using essential oils to relieve stress can offer health benefits such as helping you to feel calmed and at ease when you feel yourself under pressure.
Products we love to help relieve stress:
- Stress Release roll-on: reach for this grounding blend to ease stress and help you feel soothed. We like to roll this floral and herbal blend along our forehead, neck and shoulders to encourage relaxation and feelings of balance and harmony.
- Stress Release diffuser blend: let the soothing and tranquil notes of lavender, roman chamomile, sweet orange and geranium fill the air and support you in feeling at ease. Try 8-10 drops in your diffuser of choice and let your worries melt away.
#2. Essential oils can help aid in pain and recovery
No one likes being in pain; nagging aches, pains and strains can make us feel out of sorts and bring unnecessary stress and difficulty to our day to day activities. Choosing natural products formulated specifically to support pain relief is one of the ways you can continue to prioritize your wellness each day.
Products we love to help support pain relief & recovery:
- Extra Strength roll-on: ease sore muscles and roll on big relief with our largest and most powerful roll-on for helping to relieve backaches, strains and sprains with the warming and cooling effects of essential oils like sweet birch, peppermint and clove.
- Muscle Melt body butter: soothe, comfort and decompress your hardworking body with this combination of shea, cocoa seed and mango seed butters to soften and nourish skin alongside essential oils of sweet birch, marjoram and rosemary to ease muscle aches and pains.
#3. Essential oils can help promote restful sleep
Sleep is one of the most essential functions of our bodies each day. Getting the recommended 7-9 hours of high-quality sleep each night sets the tone for optimal functioning of our other bodily systems like digestion, immune system support and overall mental and physical energy levels.
Products we love to help support rest and relaxation at nighttime:
- Sleep Well roll-on: our potent and powerful blend to support peace and calm at bedtime, this formula includes the well-known nervous system soother called valerian root, blended with other grounding and comforting essential oils like lavender, jasmine and neroli.
- Tranquility diffuser blend: a well-loved floral and herbal blend of peaceful marjoram, roman chamomile, sweet orange and lavender to help encourage you to breathe deeply and feel rested at nighttime.
#4. Essential oils can help you stay well during cough and cold season
Products we love to help you feel better:
- Fortify roll-on: help ease symptoms of cold like cough with this soothing, restorative and nurturing blend of essential oils like clarifying tea tree, deep breathing superstar eucalyptus and warm, comforting cinnamon.
- Fortified Breeze diffuser blend: ease discomfort and feel soothed when breathing in the fortifying, renewing properties of eucalyptus, lemon, pine needle and thyme, blended to help you feel clarified and restored.
#5. Essential oils can support your mindfulness practices
Supporting your mental, emotional and spiritual health is top of mind for many people, and choosing clean, natural ingredients and products that are free from synthetic chemicals and artificial fragrances is one of the best ways to help top up your wellness and well-being.
Products we love to help support mindfulness and healthy habits:
- Pocket Farmacy - Mindful Edition: our best-selling collection of roll-ons to inspire those looking for expansion in their health and wellness practices. These roll-ons were formulated to support inner reflection, contemplation, bravery and courage, having been blended with deeply grounding and harmonizing oils like frankincense and myrrh, alongside nervous-system supportive oils like roman chamomile and cedarwood.
- Present Moment diffuser blend: take a moment to pause and feel centered with this blend specifically formulated for calm and balance. Citrusy and sweet orange and grapefruit meet woody and earthy vetiver, sandalwood and frankincense for a truly harmonizing scent experience.
THE MOST COMMONLY USED PURE ESSENTIAL OILS AND THEIR BENEFITS
Below we’ll share some of the most sought after essential oils and a few of their key attributes; how they smell and what they’re commonly used for. Be mindful that more than 90+ different single note essential oils (pure essential oils blended without carrier oil) are available on the market today, meaning you might find your own personal favorite through experimentation and exploration of the different scents brought to us from various seeds, roots, fruits, leaves, trees and flowers.
Commonly used single notes include:
- Lavender: lavender is loved for its dreamy, relaxation-inducing properties. Our single note lavender essential oil is high grade, meaning it’s derived from the world’s best natural sources to deliver peace and calm with a soft, floral scent.
- Eucalyptus: eucalyptus is that signature spa scent that’s fresh, medicinal, opening, clearing, and super soothing. This pure essential oil known for its ability to encourage deep breathing is so refreshing, it’s kinda like standing beside a waterfall—in a rainforest.
- Peppermint: peppermint oil has a bright, minty and penetrating aroma that’s cooling and tingling on the skin and inspires feelings of clarity and purpose. Reach for this uplifting and invigorating herb when you’re looking for refreshment.
- Frankincense: frankincense is an herbal, earthy spicy and warm essential oil that comforts the nerves and eases the mind. This deeply grounding and supportive oil is frequently used in personal wellness practices like yoga and meditation.
- Rose: rose is commonly referred to as the Queen of all flowers, known for its sweet, floral and nurturing scent. Rose oil can be used to help soothe and balance the emotions and is effective at bringing hydration and nourishment to the hair and skin.
- Orange: orange is a sweet, fruity essential oil from the citrus family that is known for its ability to help uplift the mood and encourage a sunny disposition. Smelling sweet orange can help you feel cheerful and peaceful, and can help ease stressful feelings.
- Tea Tree: tea tree is bracing, fresh, clearing and medicinal, one of the most popular essential oils used to help deodorize the air, support deep breathing and act and cleansing and renewing for both the body and mind.
- Grapefruit: grapefruit is a tart, fresh and zesty citrus essential oil that is commonly used to rejuvenate both the body and the emotions. Clarifying and tonifying, use this oil to tone the skin and soothe a troubled mind.
- Lemongrass: lemongrass is a zippy, zesty, sharp and pungent grass, helping to balance the body and mind while relieving stressful thoughts. Try using lemongrass to encourage the body to feel restored and at ease.
- Patchouli: patchouli reminds us to keep our feet on the ground while opening ourselves up to loving feelings. This rich, earthy and musky essential oil is deeply grounding, soothing and balancing, commonly used to help connect to one’s inner knowing and peace.
HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT ESSENTIAL OILS
There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing essential oils, but we can certainly help provide guidance along the way to support you in discovering what’s best for you. Scent is personal, and part of the fun in exploring different essential oils is selecting those that are most appealing to you. Here are some of the top considerations when choosing essential oils:
- Consider the primary reason you’re looking to choose a certain essential oil. Are you looking for an uplifting boost in the morning time? You might be drawn towards sweet, stimulating citrus oils lime lemon, lime or grapefruit. Are you hoping to use an essential oil to help you unwind at bedtime? You’re more likely to select oils known to be calming and relaxing, like lavender, roman chamomile and vetiver.
- Consider whether you’re seeking a remedial benefit (for example, an essential oil to help relieve pain) or whether you’re seeking to support enjoyment and healthy habits (a new diffuser blend to diffuse while you’re journaling). When applied directly to the skin in a base of carrier oil, certain essential oils are renowned for their pain-relieving properties, while others may be just what you need when choosing in support of your routines, rituals and wellness practices.
- Consider your personal preferences. Are you the type of person who always has a fresh bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table? Do you head into the forest for a long meander and a series of deep breaths to relax on the weekends? Are you most happy and comforted when surrounded by the scents of warm, spicy herbs? These are clues you can use to help you select essential oils that are most likely to appeal to your highly unique scent palette and preferences.
SAFETY CONSIDERATIONS WHEN USING ESSENTIAL OILS
Though the benefits and positive impact of using essential oils cannot be overstated, it’s important to remember that essential oils are highly concentrated and powerful plant compounds that should be regarded in the same way we treat household cleaning products or medicines; that is, to use with caution, care, informed guidance and under safe conditions.
Under most circumstances, it’s recommended that essential oils are blended with a carrier oil prior to being applied directly to the skin, to ensure proper dilution and reduced risk of sensitization or skin irritation.
When in doubt, we always recommend deferring to the guidance and supervision of a trusted healthcare professional, like your doctor or a licensed and certified aromatherapist. Though essential oils are safe for most people in most normal circumstances, you and your healthcare professional know your body best. Below are the articles we advise reading in regards to three specific topics:
- Usage And Safety Of Essential Oils With Babies And Children: here we address the perspectives of leading industry experts when it comes to the use of essential oils with babies and children
- Guidelines and Expectations For New And Expectant Mothers: common inquiries and frequently asked questions regarding essential oils and pregnancy
- Essential Oils And Pets: common sense guidelines for using essential oils around pets in your home
LEARN MORE ABOUT ESSENTIAL OILS AND THEIR USES
If you’d like to learn more about essential oils and their various uses and benefits through articles we’ve written previously, please see the following posts below:
Aromatherapy is a caring, hands-on therapy which seeks to induce relaxation, to increase energy, to reduce the effects of stress and to restore lost balance to mind, body and soul.
—Robert Tisserand, Aromatherapist